Unkind October

Updated 08 Nov 2020

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The writer is a barrister.
The writer is a barrister.

IT wasn’t hard to figure out Awais Noorani at the latest PDM rally in Quetta. Heir to his father’s Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP), Mr Noorani went for broke, and called for Baloch­istan to part from the rest of the country.

The JUP currently boasts a population of zero in the assembly (it was most relevant when it was torching Lahore in 1953). For the same reason, few came to Mr Noorani’s defence — including himself. “It was a slip of tongue,” he said, and expressed sadness that the press would repeat exactly what he had screamed to thousands of people.

Around the same time as Mr Noorani ‘ghalti se’ cried for secession, a man of greater gravitas — Mian Nawaz Sharif — also went for broke and, while saying he was addressing the army rank and file, urged them not to be complicit in abandoning their countrymen to “violators of the Constitution”.

Capping this off was former speaker Ayaz Sadiq, a man of sober and sensible repute, who called Abhinandan’s return the result of capitulation, and the unrealised threat of an Indian attack. Besides being disproven, this was a more or less catastrophic remark in terms of deterrence, especially when both Islamabad and Rawalpindi acquitted themselves unprecedentedly well during the Feb 27 stand-off.

The Pakistan Democratic Movement is neither democratic nor a movement.

If it isn’t obvious already, the PDM’s chosen ones are raising the stakes for the establishment: stop being mean to us, they whisper, or we’ll keep saying naughty things.

It’s why their usual critics have exploded on TV, crying treason. But whether or not Indians, Israelis, or Freemasons had a field day with these statements is missing the point: the fact is that unrest in Balochistan is terrible for Pakistan. Intra-military intrigue is terrible for Pakistan. Upending the country’s self-defence signalling — at a time when our neighbour happens to be an orange neo-Nazi — is terrible for Pakistan.

Those that say such statements serve civilian supremacy (courtesy the same gents that sold their supremacy for sacks of cash from Gen Beg) are either being dim or dishonest.

In real life, the Pakistan Democratic Movement is neither democratic nor a movement. It’s an inter-elite skirmish over relevance, closure of NAB cases, and closeness to the establishment. For all his talk of ‘mujhay kyun nikala’, Mian sahib loved helping ‘nikaalufy’ prime ministers Junejo, Benazir, Benazir again, and Yousuf Raza. When a man does something four times, odds are he can do it a fifth.

While not behaving as badly, the PPP has played the game harder in recent years, undermining the PML-N in the Senate and Balochistan. Whatever the PPP’s recipe, Asif Zardari remains a free man; a criminal empire powered by fake accounts remains unresolved (albeit blown wide open by the FIA and some excellent work by investigative journalist Meiryum Ali), and Bahria Town continues to rule Karachi.

Rounding off these beloved progressives is Maulana Fazl, who stalled the honour killing bill until it was neutered, opposed the Fata merger, and currently blocks child marriage restraints. His underboss, Mufti Kifayatullah, was accused of covering up child rape in Mansehra. Here indeed be our last liberal hope.

And yet for all the emptiness of this opposition, the PTI — in government at last — has made the same old red lines redder. Missing persons remain missing. The Asghar Khan case has gone out the window. Dissidents are overcome with the urge to leave Earth for a few days, visit the northern areas, and then return refreshed and renewed. Gen Musharraf’s trial is in limbo, while most of his comrades are in the cabinet.

Before he became prime minister, Imran Khan had refused to accept the idea of missing persons. He was equally clear about Asghar Khan vs Aslam Beg: “If [people] want to know who these celestial beings are, then just reopen the Asghar Khan case.” And in 2014, he said that Musharraf shouldn’t be all­owed to escape his treason trial.

But that was then, and this is now, with the interior minister, Ijaz Shah, praying for the safety of PML-N leaders, while creepily invoking terror attacks on the ANP in the same breath. It is ironic that the minister, who did nothing to save Pakistan from a mass-murdering insurgency, would comment on the Bilour and Iftikhar families, who lost everything in its defiance.

Ijaz Shah needs to be retired from government the same way Awais Noorani needs to be retired from the opposition alliance. Mr Ayaz Sadiq would be better served retracting his statement rather than reaffirming its damage. The prime minister must end the awful saga of missing persons; his party must return to its old ideas. And in a country that has seen Nawabzada Nasrullah and Asma Jahangir and Asghar Khan, civilian supremacy requires a messiah far less self-seeking than Nawaz Sharif.

October often brings the cold with it. Even still, Pakistan deserved better than the past month.

The writer is a barrister.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2020